Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Word to the Wise

Let’s talk about blogging and using wisdom for a moment.

Since most of my regular readers (all 10 or so of you) are Christian bloggers, some of whom are involved with online ministries, I am speaking primarily to the Christian blogosphere (and other forms of online communication, such as Christian message boards). It is easy to let our guards down, especially when we are involved in some media or forum where, we assume, all other participants are honest, fine, upstanding folks.

And that may be - most of them are. Everyone reading this may be Internet savvy, worldly wise, and completely honest. ‘Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves’, the Lord warned. I have noticed that on several of your blogs (particularly the two who deal with politics and apologetics – no faster way to get traffic), there are many, MANY troublemakers who come in with hit and run comments simply to stir up trouble. I have not had to deal with that (much) on this blog, mainly because I’ve stayed away from politics, and frankly I have a much lower tolerance for rudeness and surly attacks than some of you. However, if I may state the obvious here, the internet is as public a venue as it gets.

Literally anyone can read anything you write, and depending on your subject matter, you may make enemies. Until the last month, I had never received a rude or inappropriate comment on my blog. After posting an AP piece on the destruction of Bibles in Afghanistan – a soldier’s private property – a link to the entry was posted on an atheistic site and I moderated quite a few inappropriate comments (I define “inappropriate” as anything containing obscenity, passive-aggressive rhetoric, or slandering the Name of Christ.) I simply delete such comments. You want to attack me, I’ll print it – provided you don’t sound like a drunken sailor. You slander my Savior, you’re looking at being perma-banned. I’ll permit sarcasm, provided it is directed at me personally. Frankly, it makes the commenter look stupid.

In response to various “red flags” I’ve seen online over the last few years in Christian blogs and forums, I’ve put together what will hopefully be a helpful list of pointers to those of you who blog.

Keep comment moderation “ON”.
There are several reasons for this, the most obvious one being the afore-mentioned Rudeness Issue. Even if you don’t mind your blog being turned into a debate forum by unbelievers, you should still take the time to moderate comments because of the risk of sabotage. A fellow Christian blogger wrote:

“A hidden link is where someone who knows what they are doing can have a word that you click and it sends you - lots of bloggers do that in their articles when they say "read here" and the "here" has a link. I had someone do that to me with a web address that they wanted me to check out for them - ostensibly - and they wanted my comments. It was just someone trying to get my goat I guess (you know, found the e-mail on the blog) because the link looked like an interesting address but it came up to a hard-core porn site which was not the same address as the bogus one sent. Well that one must have planted something on my computer because a couple weeks later I'm on the net and a pop-up came on my screen that was hard to get rid of and it was a bunch of photos of bare-breasted women. I had told my wife about the false link when it happened - complained to her about the disgusting people on the net. She was sitting with me when the pop-up happened which, of course, got her furious - "how can people be so evil?!" I had a geek at work tell me how to clean out all the plants, viruses, spies, et al and then we got a neat program that has all the known "bad" sites in it and it won't let you get to it. So if I had that with that nasty hidden link, it would have come up with a page that says it's not authorized. It also looks at photos and if it doesn't like them it will not let the photo come even if the site is okay. Real neat. It's called "See No Evil." I haven't had any problems since, and that was about 7 months ago.The pastor who set me up with the blog said he had that happen to him a couple times where people imbed links for you to go to and he said he got a nasty virus that took forever to get rid of on top of the porn pop-ups. One thing I learned from that was to not go to a site someone wants me to "check" if they send me a link and I don't know them. Evil, evil world. But it will also help me when I check out links that come with people's comments - no bad stuff will come across.”

Hidden links are fine to use in the body of a blog entry when you want to refer the reader to another article. I use them myself, and if you are on a trusted site, you should be able to click without anxiety. Once, before I had comment moderation selected, a machine-generated comment was left by a Spambot – with a link, of course. It didn’t go anywhere pornographic, but it was a strange website. We all know not to open an e-mail (either attachment or embedded link) that is clearly Spam, but did you know that the same holds true for unknown senders forwarding hidden links? Don’t let them gain access to your blogspot.

Don’t put your e-mail address on your blog.
See above. Do you really want to be getting A) additional Spam, or B) e-mails from people you don’t know? If they are really sincere and just want to comment on something you’ve written, they’ll leave a message in the combox – that’s what it’s there for.

Don’t leave comments after you’ve been drinking.
This is more intended for drive-by commentors, who love to antagonize Christian bloggers. At least do us all the favor of waiting until you sober up. Sometimes the things you type hiding behind the anonymity of your computer screen make you look really, really stupid.

Avoid inappropriate intimacy, or becoming overly-familiar.
Yes, I’m talking to you Christians. Do I really need to elaborate on this one? To adults? Yes, unfortunately I do. The internet is not the place to be cultivating “friendships”, especially with members of the opposite sex. Shannon Ethridge devotes most of a chapter to this touchy subject in one of her books. On an online Christian forum (which I have long since stopped visiting), I have witnessed full-grown adults making plans to get together (one on one) at Christian music festivals, “disciple” one another via e-mail, and develop cyber-friendships (some of these folks were married). There may be a tendency to relax “the rules” a bit when it’s a “Christian” community, but this is a mistake. Pursuing friendships (online or not) with members of the opposite sex is something you give up your right to once you are married (and is risky business before that). In fact, e-mailing is even something with which you should use great caution – in this day and age, it is near-impossible to make a hard and fast rule about never e-mailing with a man (if you’re a woman), but there is a difference between an exchange of information and friendly chatting. The latter is fine with other Christian bloggers of your same gender, but otherwise, communication should be public (limited to leaving comments on others’ blogs).

If you wonder if it should be said, it probably shouldn’t.
I have seen even public communication that is, IMO, wildly inappropriate. Be very careful about using words such as “love” in the second person singular. Yeah, I know; we Christians are called to love one another, and brotherly love is phileos and we all have agape and they all mean love and so forth. Truust me; I don’t need a Greek lesson. Certain terms are loaded with connotations and mean certain things in certain cultures; or at the very least have subtle implications. This even comes through in some of the…ummm…questionable CCM we hear (Matt Redman’s “Let My Words Be Few” comes to mind). I am not splitting linguistic hairs here. Avoid over-familiarity on other people’s blogs, especially if they are of the opposite gender. Yes, I am speaking to Christians here. (The same goes for Facebook, which I have heard has become a real cesspool of worldliness….the “Christian” groups have become just like the world.) As Paul said, avoid even the appearance of evil.

Any other tips/comments you bloggers think should be added? (And by the way, feel free to leave me a comment. Just make sure it’s on topic, and don’t you dare step out of line!)


4simpsons said...

Excellent tips, Marie. I haven't had much trouble with the hidden links, but Wordpress has a very good sp*m filter.

I use Bsafe Online as my Internet filter / virus detection / etc. software. I use it on all of our PCs. I strongly encourage accountability partners to have some sort of software like that.

I do think people need to be careful with over-familiarity or off-line emailing. That happens from time to time but should never get to personal. Arranging meetings with opposite sex folks is definitely creepy.

Dani' El said...

Oy, the troubles I've had with this stuff. This has become a real issue for me in the last several months.

Due to the nature of my blog, I am swamped with nasty stuff.

I've had to deal with others who impersonate me elsewhere, copying my profile to a T then posting links to porn sites, or writing heretical views etc.
I guess this is called "sock puppeting".

There are even sites that parody my blog.

At first, it really got my goat.
Really made me furious as they had done some serious damage to folks I as witnessing to, as they did not know what was truly coming from me or not.

More than once, I decided it was not worth continuing and I decided to stop altogether, but like Jeremiah, it burns within my bones and I'm right back at it soon enough.

I've talked with some tech savvy folks and sadly, in many cases, it's nearly impossible to do much about most of these harassment techniques of the wicked.

I use a couple of different email accounts so if one goes down in flames, I have back up that I only use with trusted folks.
I had one email account hacked once and it was real terrible as I lost a bunch of contacts I had worked years to gather.

Anyway, I guess the internet is like the world at large.
Evil beyond description, we are in it, but not of it.
It's a sewer and we cannot help but get a bit dirty when we do battle there.